U.S. English Foundation Research
8. Miscellaneous: What else can be found about languages and minorities?
An amendment to the Austrian Constitution was passed on July 7, 2000 in Parliament aimed at strengthening the respect, safeguard, and promotion of the recognized minorities of the country. Whether it will lead to a revision of the existing minority laws such as the Ethnic Act of 1976 is still uncertain. For the moment, it remains a moot point while the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages has not been yet ratified. The amendment could be considered as a framework within which a new legislation will be created and the old one checked to be in accordance with its stated principles. This is an important legal step to be taken, as the constitutional amendment in itself does not refer to any specific individual or collective rights.
On its way to the ratification of the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and after the reprimand from the other European state members, Austria has proposed several measures aimed at the reinforcement of its linguistic minorities’ rights. On the one hand, there has been the approval of a decree, which would allow the existence of bilingual street signs (Hungarian-German, Croatian-German) in the province of Burgenland; and, on the other hand, it has set forth a constitutional reform in order to recognize, for the first time, the rights of historic minorities in the Austrian constitution. Both proposals need to count on the opposition’s support to be approved. This fact will therefore lead to a hard negotiation. It is, however, a positive fact if we consider that minority groups in Austria have been long awaiting the concretion of the rights included in the 1955 State Treaty. Such novelties may be significant indeed, although its real development may be determined by the current political situation of this European country.
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Updated (January 2001)
SLOVENE MINORITY IN STYRIA:
For the first time after 46 years, the Styrian Slovene organization “Article 7” received public funding from the province of Styria. The name of the organization, Article 7, refers to the article in the constitution of 1955, which guarantees protection to the Slovene minority without mentioning provinces.
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Updated (July 2001)
The Austrian province of Carinthia has decided to financially support private bilingual kindergartens. The decision was made unanimously in the Parliament following negotiations between the three major parties and minority representatives. According to public broadcaster ORF, the government of the province will appoint a leading group, who will administrate the money as well as monitor and control the educational work in the kindergartens.
The three major parties in the parliament, the Freedom Party, the Social democrats as well as the conservative Peoples Party were content about the “common decision”.
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Updated (November 2002)
AUSTRIAN CENSUS 2001
On October 17, 2002, the national statistics institute in Austria published the complete data on ethnic minorities collected in the 2001 Census. The institute stressed the fact that the census did not count the size of the ethnic minorities but the number of persons who speak the language of the ethnic minority, also in combination with other languages. According to the results, fewer people in the regions of Carinthia and Burgenland consider Slovene, Burgenland-Croatian and Hungarian as their colloquial language.
In Carinthia, a home of the Slovene minority, 12,554 people ticked Slovene as their colloquial language. This was about 1,408 people less than in the 1991 census. Furthermore, another distinction was made by introducing a historically burdened option “Windisch” into the census (chosen by 555 people).
This division was heavily criticized by the Austrian Centre for Ethnic Minorities (Österreichisches Volksgruppenzentrum) stating that considerable effort had been made to reduce the number of minority language speakers. The reintroduction of the option “Windisch” next to “Slovene” and the division of “Burgenland-Croatian” and “Croatian” is an example.
Franjo Schruiff from the Burgenland Croatian Centre in Vienna considers this division to be nonsensical, because it is of no help to analyze dialects separately.
While fewer people use the minority language in the Burgenland region, numbers have increased in the Austrian capital. This is mainly a result of migration of residents from Burgenland to Vienna. Another reason is the naturalization of former Hungarian and Czech citizens.
However, migration of Croatian-speakers from Burgenland to Vienna remains a problem because minority protection does not move with the people, explained Mr. Schruiff. He referred to the fact that there is a strict territorial interpretation when talking about the protection of certain minorities. For the Burgenland-Croatians this protection is only guaranteed in the region of Burgenland, but not in the capital.
While the statistics estimate the number of Burgenland-Croatian speakers in Vienna at 2,456; the Burgenland-Croatian Culture Association assumes that the capital has more than 12 to 15,000 people who speak Croatian.
The biggest ethnic minority in the Austrian capital are the Hungarian-speakers (15,435), followed by the Czech-speakers (7,769), the Slovak-speakers (4,741), Slovene-speakers (2,396) and Romanès-speakers (1,806).
For the Austrian Centre for Ethnic Minorities the results of the census show alarming tendencies among minority speakers to assimilate, especially in the countryside. “More then ever there is a need for politics to take concrete and quick steps towards the effective protection of ethnic minorities,” says Marjan Pipp, the President of the Centre. This should affect especially the media provision, the language teaching, visibility of bilingualism and the economic support for rural areas where ethnic minorities live.
Source: Eurolang News, Brussels, October 18, 2002, by Margret Oberhofer, http://126.96.36.199/webpub/eurolang/pajenn.asp?ID=3885
SLOVENE IN STYRIA ON THE RISE
While according to the 2001 census fewer people in Carinthia consider Slovene to be their colloquial language, in the neighboring region of Styria the use of Slovene has increased. The results show that 2,192 inhabitants of Styria use Slovene as their colloquial language. “In fact the numbers of speakers are twice or three times higher,” estimates Michael Petrowitsch, the director of the Styrian cultural organization “Article VII.”
While it is generally known that Slovene is spoken in Carinthia, the situation of this minority in Styria is seldom discussed. Recent attempts, launched by the Green party in Styria, to receive official recognition as a minority failed.
Currently Slovene is taught on a voluntary basis in Styria. “Last school year we had between 200 and 300 students, which is a lot if you consider that classes took place in the late afternoon and competed with all the other subjects,” explains Petrowitsch.
Even though this minority is recognized explicitly in the Article 7 of the Austrian Treaty (1955), it does not receive the same attention as other Austrian minorities. One of the main concerns for the Styrians is that they are not represented in the advisory board for ethnic minorities. Currently a Carinthian Slovene speaks for the neighboring minority within this body, which advises the Austrian government on minority issues.
Source: Eurolang News, Brussels, October 30, 2002, by Margret Oberhofer, http://188.8.131.52/webpub/eurolang/pajenn.asp?ID=3907